Ed huffed and puffed as Al clanged away beside him. Every other breath was a curse for the Colonel. He still didn't understand why the Ishvarllans would make a Philosopher's Stone, but he had promised to check out every lead. That is if he survived. Breathing was getting harder and harder the farther up they marched. Next to him, Al was humming, the lack of oxygen not affecting him at all.
"How much further, do you think?"
"Not much, Brother. I can't even see the bottom of the steps any more."
Taking the moment Al stopped to look back down; he bent over to catch his breath. Less winded, Ed turned as well, hand shading his eyes to look down below.
"Neither can I. At least it's not as hot up here."
He stifled a groan as Al resumed walking. He trudged on, stomping his way up the side of the mountain. They continued in silence for a while, panting too much to talk. He could feel blood gathering at the top of his sock, scratches from banging his shin on the rough edge of the stairs. He fell a little behind, letting Al lead the way. He was bone-weary and dizzy. He kept his eyes on his feet as the stairs climbed higher. After a little while he was occasionally using his hands to pull himself up the tortuous route.Ed was concentrating so hard on just making it up another step that he didn't notice Al had come to a stop until he ran right into him.
"Are you okay, Brother?"
"Why did you stop?"
"It's useless, see?" He followed Al's hand as it gestured to the path in front of them. Two more steps forward and the staircase had crumbled away. A chasm stretched through the wall of the mountain, looking like someone just took a big piece of pie right out of the bedrock. "Think we can use alchemy to fix it?"
"I'll try." He clapped his hands together and slapped the rock beneath his feet. In the first 1/10th of a second of the transmutation, he broke it off. "No going. It's too porous to risk spreading it out any more. We could bring down the entire staircase."
"So, what do we do now?" At this he paused and looked back down the long flight of stairs. They seemed to disappear into the sparkling desert without ever reaching ground. He looked deep into the chasm cut into the mountain, finding the walls smooth and the drop down certain death.
"Well, we have to check out this lead. I'm not going to let a little mountain slide get in the way of that." The two locked eyes for a minute, seeming to think the same thing.
"Think you can get enough speed?" Ed shook his head in reply.
"I was thinking we could try it the other way."
"!? But if I misjudge you'll go flying off of the mountain!!"
"You won't misjudge."
"Shouldn't we at least tie ourselves together?"
"Nah, I'll take the rope, though. We'll probably need it for the way back down."
The two sat down and got to work divvying up the packs. Ed took all of the water and food along with the rope. He left the rest of the stuff with Al.
"How long should I give you before I head back down for help?"
"Two days. Take my identification with you."
"…….be careful, Ed."
"Right. Let's do this."
He slipped the pack carefully over his shoulders, making sure to tighten the buckles holding it on. Ed alchemized two stairs into one large stair, large enough that Al could comfortable sit on it. Checking his surroundings one more time, he nodded in satisfaction. Looking up he nodded once to Al before holding out his arms. He did his best not to fidget as Al felt for just the right hold and grasped tightly.
"Here we go!"
He forced his eyes to stay open as Al suddenly spun, his legs and pack flying out behind him. Once around and his eyes were stung with tears. Twice around and his breath failed. Three times around and his shoulder popped as he was turned loose. Ed did his best to brace himself as he went flying towards the stairs, hoping that the remaining steps were still sturdy. He landed hard on his feet, sliding across the step until his back came to rest against the mountain and he fell.
Grimacing, he forced himself to stand immediately. He felt his skin torn off in a dozen places as he straightened his clothes. Ignoring them all, he looked back down to where Al was sitting on the other steps. With a maniacal grin on his face he waved and gave the thumbs up sign. Ed gestured behind him, up the mountain before he waved one last time to Al and turned away.
14Nov07 Author's note: Republishing following corrections. Thank you, Ishte for your help earlier in pointing out problems.